Climate Change Report Explained; Jake Gyllenhaal And Not Bathing : It's Been a Minute #ShowerGate. Sam talks to Carl Zimring, professor of sustainability studies at Pratt Institute and author of Clean and White, about the online debate over celebrities showering habits and how it taps into a long history linking hygiene and race.

Then, we hear from Yessenia Funes, climate editor for Atmos Magazine, about this week's report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

You can follow us on Twitter @NPRItsBeenAMin and email us at

Hygiene Debates, Skipping Showers, And Climate Change, Oh My!

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AUNT BETTY, BYLINE: Hey, y'all. This is Sam's Aunt Betty. This week, the history of race and hygiene in America. All right, let's start the show.



You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR. I'm Sam Sanders. And this week, showers. So the past couple of weeks, people have been pretty harsh on celebrities online. It's not as bad as when that "Imagine" video came out last spring, but it's close. The reason - a group of celebrities have begun to say publicly that they don't shower that much.


ASHTON KUTCHER: I wash my armpits and my crotch daily and nothing else ever.



SANDERS: That's Ashton Kutcher. He and his wife, Mila Kunis, were on Dax Shepard's podcast "Armchair Expert" with Dax's wife, Kristen Bell. On that show, Ashton talked about not showering that much. Dax and Kristen - they are in the same boat.


SHEPARD: I only have to when either a smell is present or I'm in that stuff, the accoutrement (ph) of acting.

KRISTEN BELL: I don't know. It just happens whenever it happens, I guess.

SHEPARD: The bottom line is mine could be better.

SANDERS: Some people are calling this #ShowerGate. Jake Gyllenhaal, another famous white person - he weighed in, too.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Telling Vanity Fair in an interview that he finds bathing to be less necessary.

SANDERS: All these nonshowering celebrities are white, and a lot of the people who feel some kind of way about their lack of showering are people of color. This isn't new. It even goes further back than the great leg washing debate of 2019. Like, should you wash your legs in the shower or just not? Yes, that was a real debate. Turns out there's a history behind why these kinds of arguments - about showers, of all things - feel totally racialized.

CARL ZIMRING: Some long-standing tensions and power relations around hygiene in American culture still very much shape our perceptions on who can afford not to bathe and what consequences not bathing have for particular people and not for other people.

SANDERS: That's Carl Zimring. He's a professor of sustainability studies at Pratt Institute and also the author of a book called "Clean And White." He talked to me about America's deep history of conflating race with hygiene.

You know, there's no better way to start to explain to our audience how hygiene and baths have been racialized for such a long time than to talk about what the earliest soap advertisements here in the U.S. looked like. You know, there's a reason why Dove soap and Ivory soap are usually white.

ZIMRING: Indeed. And if you go look at advertisements from the late 19th and early 20th century, these are interesting 'cause this is the first period where there's really illustrations rather than simply text in advertising. And racial stereotypes are common tropes in advertising in the period for all sorts of different products. But what's interesting to me are, on a couple of levels, the way that race, ethnicity and hygiene informs soap and cleanser products. My book, "Clean And White," is actually based on a David's Prize soap ad, which has two Black women washing laundry, and they're talking about David's Prize soap - makes their laundry clean and white. And those types of ads are not particularly unusual that stereotypes using racialized work, in this case, Black washerwomen - in the case of some other ads, Chinese men who are doing laundry - to sell the products. And there are many advertisements like that. What's more disturbing is by the 1870s, we see a more insidious racial stereotype where soaps and cleansers claim to wash Black skin or, in the case of some ads, Turkish skin or indigenous American skin white.

SANDERS: Seriously, listeners, please, if you haven't yet, Google early or first soap advertisements. There's these images of people putting soap on dark-skinned people to turn their skin white. Soap was all about whiteness.

ZIMRING: Indeed. And so one of the reasons why these advertisements are important is, yes, they're shocking and disturbing, but they're coming at the same time that the rollback of reconstruction is happening. Voting rights are being reduced. Ability to own property in some states is being reduced. And white racialized violence and lynching is going up rapidly. These ads are part of the growth of Jim Crow not just in the South but also residential segregation in the North, in cities, as well as rural areas. So the talking about nonwhite people, especially Black Americans but not exclusively, as being somehow dirty and who could be cleansed from soaps is part of an attempt to wash them out of the body politic.

SANDERS: And uphold a racial hierarchy.

ZIMRING: Absolutely.

SANDERS: If you can convince people that Black people and brown people are dirtier and less human, you can justify putting them in ghettos, not giving them rights, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. You know, we don't see soap that way now, but some of that imagery still subtly lingers, right? I mean, like, Ivory soap is still Ivory soap, and the bars are usually white. That mean something. And, you know, just a few years ago, Dove got in trouble and Nivea got in trouble for some ads that seemed to call back to that racialized history of soap, right?

ZIMRING: Yes. One of the things I say about cultures - culture is something that we live inside. We are often conscious about what we're doing, but we really have to keep in mind that our conversations, our experiences, our life at work, our life at home all come within a cultural context. And we don't always notice what we've normalized in culture. So about four or five years before we were taping this, both Dove and Nivea got into trouble for sequencing ads to basically uphold that whiteness, including white skin, would be pure. For example, if - you might have a Black woman taking off a dark shirt, suddenly revealing an Asian woman in a yellow shirt, suddenly taking off that shirt and revealing a white, pale skinned woman...

SANDERS: Oh, my God.

ZIMRING: ...In a white shirt.

SANDERS: It's like a bad version of that Michael Jackson "Black Or White" video (laughter).

So, you know, we end up in this weird position, where the earliest stereotypes around soap and all kinds of hygiene had whites at the top and Blacks at the bottom. Whites are cleaner and more superior; Blacks are dirtier and inferior. You know, I think about my life growing up. I had an aunt who I loved. I'll never forget this. When I was really little and she'd give my brother and me baths, to make sure we got extra clean, she would scrub our elbows and our knees with Comet, the scouring powder.

ZIMRING: Oh, my goodness. Ow.

SANDERS: I know. I was fine. It's OK.

ZIMRING: That's not good for the skin.

SANDERS: You know, we as Black people held on to being clean so much because of those stereotypes. And even to this day, I've read some reports that Black people, as a demographic, we spend way more on beauty and hygiene products than would be expected for our share of the population. And I think it's because we're still fighting these stereotypes. You know, how crazy is it that it's now flipped on its head?

ZIMRING: Based on the historical records of both autobiographies as well as the rise of empires such as Madame C.J. Walker's empire, the hygienic practices of freed Black Americans in the 19th century was actually higher than those for whites, who are even middle class or upper class. One of the examples that I give is Booker T. Washington. In his autobiography, in 1901, "Up From Slavery" talks extensively about how he instilled elevated hygienic practices amongst the pupils at his Tuskegee Institute, in particular saying that the gospel of the toothbrush was a civilizing force for freed Black Americans. And the logic of it is, at a time that the citizenship, the status of freed Black Americans was very much contested, Washington's efforts - and not just his, there's various efforts that the Urban League, the NAACP, Black newspapers such as the Chicago Defender and the Pittsburgh Courier. There would be clean-up events for neighborhoods, as well as tips on how to wash your body and your clothes.

SANDERS: Wow. Wow.

ZIMRING: And if, again, hygiene is conflated with you're a danger to society, you can, according to this rationalization, try to fight that by being as clean as you and your community can be. And so Washington is working on this for decades. And what happens? You've got people washing their hair, bodies, their clothes and cleaning up their neighborhoods more than anyone else. And yet, the rights and the privileges of a full American citizenship are still being stripped from them.

SANDERS: Yeah. All right. So then if we're saying here that the history of soap and hygiene is racialized and has been used to support this idea that white people are inherently cleaner and better and superior, flash-forward to now, Jake Gyllenhaal, famous white man, says, I don't shower that much. Isn't that progress? Why doesn't that feel like progress? He says this thing, and we're all mad.

ZIMRING: The reason we're mad is - it's actually, in a vacuum, perfectly fine that Jake Gyllenhaal may bathe once a week. But let's think about this another way. Suppose Terrence Howard said, I only bathe once a week. Would he be treated the same way as Jake Gyllenhaal? Suppose Kerry Washington, to bring gender...


ZIMRING: ...Into this as well...


ZIMRING: ...Said she only bathed once a week, how would she be perceived?


ZIMRING: It's not about Jake Gyllenhaal. It's about Jake Gyllenhaal within the context of what he has the privilege to be able to do, that other Americans don't have that privilege.


ZIMRING: That's why people are up in arms about this.

SANDERS: Yeah. Yeah. You know, I've got to confess to you my personal hygiene story. I grew up as a Black boy in South Texas, where cleanliness was next to godliness. But thinking about where I am now, I shower less. And during the pandemic, there'd be some weeks where I showered once every three days, full disclosure. And I'm comfortable talking about that on the radio. And I'm kind of realizing, in the context of this conversation, it's in part because I'm functioning in a space of privilege and, to a certain extent, a coded white privilege. I work in a white profession. I have a white-collar job. I have a majority-white audience. And I'm still very Black.

But I guess my takeaway and the thing that you referenced earlier is that it's not so cut and dry. It's not simply Black and white, these questions of privilege and who has it. It fluctuates. Does having less cut and dryness around all of this and me being able to have a different hygiene journey now - I don't know, is it a sign of progress?

ZIMRING: It's definitely a sign of historical change. And as a historian, I have to point out that not everything is linear, that things aren't necessarily getting simply better or simply worse. And in many ways, white privilege has expanded over the last two centuries. To give a little bit of my own personal story, I'm Jewish. My great-grandfather came to this country, and the job he was able to have was a junk peddler.

SANDERS: What exactly is a junk peddler?

ZIMRING: A junk peddler is someone who, in his case, went from farm to farm in rural Iowa to collect broken pots, pans...


ZIMRING: ...And agricultural equipment that were metal...


ZIMRING: ...And bring it back to a junkyard and sell that. And waste-handling occupations have a very racialized history between the U.S. Civil War and the present day. Native-born white people don't do these jobs overwhelmingly. But one of the things that happened in my family is, we were able to assimilate into white society and white privilege over the course of three or four generations. I grew up in a white-collar home. I'm a college professor.


ZIMRING: My relationship to recycling, other than I study it, is I drop paper in the bin in my office, and then someone picks it up...


ZIMRING: ...And handles it. And the people who pick it up and handle it in New York City tend not to be a native-born white people either.

SANDERS: Yeah. Yeah. Full disclosure, I have not showered today, and I'm not sure yet if I will because it's my choice. It's my choice (laughter).

ZIMRING: And that's OK.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

ZIMRING: And with luck, Sam, this will not affect you in the eyes of your audience, your employers or anyone else in this country in a way that will not impede your ability to live your life to your best ability.

SANDERS: And if it does affect you, dear listeners, I don't care.


SANDERS: Carl, thank you so much for this conversation. The next time I see the great shower war pop up on the internet, I will have a lot of deeper thoughts. Appreciate you.

ZIMRING: Thank you so much for speaking with me, Sam.

SANDERS: Thanks again to Carl Zimring. And you can find more of his research in his book, "Clean And White."

Coming up, a new report about climate change came out this week. And the news is not good at all. What needs to happen next?


SANDERS: We're going to talk climate now.


SANDERS: Last month, Germany and China experienced deadly, catastrophic floods. A recent heat wave and the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia led to temperatures higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit for several days. And at the time of this recording, the Dixie fire in Northern California has been burning for almost a month. It is now California's second-biggest fire ever. And officials say they are weeks away from containing it. Increasingly, these kind of events can be blamed on rising temperatures across the globe. And this week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC - they released a new report on climate change.

The news was not good. And there were a few big takeaways; one, humans are the cause of rapid warming; two, extreme weather is happening more often and getting worse. And three, things will get worse, but we can avoid the worst-case scenarios if we cut emissions drastically and soon.

YESSENIA FUNES: I mean, it is - it's pretty damn bad. I think bad is an understatement.

SANDERS: That is Yessenia Funes. She is the climate editor for Atmos magazine. And she was anticipating that this IPCC report would be bad. But...

FUNES: It's important to remember that what actually happens is determined on the actions that we take.

SANDERS: So I wanted to know, what might life look like 10 or 15 years from now if we don't take action against climate change?

FUNES: I mean, to contextualize, we're currently on track for a scenario where the earth warms 2.7 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures by 2100 - by the end of the century. And so, you know, a couple degrees Celsius might not sound like too much, but every fraction of a degree severely alters the Earth's natural processes. And so in that scenario, which we're currently on track for, we're looking at extreme heat events such as that heat wave that hit the Pacific Northwest. Events that used to happen once in a decade will be occurring five times each decade.


FUNES: That's what this report outlines. And it's not just heat, right? We're talking about cyclones, extreme hurricanes. We thought, you know, Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Maria were bad. We're looking at scenarios where these types of events also occur much more frequently.

SANDERS: Yeah. Besides the crazy storms and cyclones and heat waves, there's also this reality that the sea level is going to continue to rise. So as years pass, you know, parts of coastal cities that we know and love in LA or Miami or New York, they're going to literally go away.

FUNES: Mmm hmm. Yeah. And I think that that is one of the more unsettling findings in the report, is that no matter what happens, some impacts are irreversible, right? And sea level rise is one of those. Of course, the magnitude of what that looks like depends on, you know, what course we take. But the melting of our ice sheets - there's enough melting now to really lock in sea level rise for millennia.

SANDERS: Yeah, yeah. So we've laid out all of the dire scenarios that we might be facing collectively as the Earth continues to warm. But what does the solution look like or feel like? We know that cutting carbon and greenhouse emissions has to happen. But if the big players here, these big corporations and these big governments, really took it seriously, what would that look like?

FUNES: Yeah, I think most urgently, what needs to happen is that we need to end the extraction of fossil fuels. We need to end the expansion of fossil fuels. You know, I just wrote a piece in The Guardian that looks at the idea of abolishing the fossil fuel industry at large and the different avenues...

SANDERS: Hearing you say that, I'm just like, really? That would never happen. We're so...

FUNES: (Laughter).

SANDERS: It's so in our cultural DNA, you know. I - but...

FUNES: I mean, it's...

SANDERS: Is that a possibility?

FUNES: It's definitely what some might consider, like, a fringe idea, right? How do you take down the most powerful player on earth and historically one of - the most powerful player on earth historically as well? But, you know, I think it's a case that should take some - you know, folks should take a look at that. I think it deserves some examination, especially when you look at it through the eye of, like, nationalization and, you know, the U.S. sort of purchasing some of these assets, especially as we start transitioning into a clean energy economy. And, you know, oil and gas reserves eventually start devaluing and being worth less and less 'cause for many environmental justice advocates, which is, you know, the area that I focus my reporting on, they don't want to see this industry that has harmed their communities through pollution, through toxic waste and, of course, through the climate crisis. They don't want to see a place for this industry in what comes next. I don't think it's taken very seriously by policymakers, but I wish that they would.

SANDERS: Yeah. What would that look like for the average person if fossil fuel emissions and extraction of some of this stuff was just taken to close to nothing? Do we know yet how that would affect, like, your or my daily life? I'm guessing that look much different, no?

FUNES: Yeah. I mean, I think that it's important to say that we're talking about, like, a radical reimagining of human society at large - right? - because you've mentioned this earlier on, fossil fuels are sort of the fabric - right? - of our societies. They're in the cars we drive. I mean, at this point, oil is in the clothes we wear. And so we're talking about radically transforming our societies. And it's not just about converting, you know, gas-powered cars into electric cars. It's about building out mass transit systems that allow folks who have previously been pushed out of their neighborhoods due to gentrification, that gives them a place in their cities that allows them to commute to and from work affordably. This is the future that folks imagine when we talk about a just transition and moving away from fossil fuels. But for many advocates, you know, it's also about reassessing our lifestyles and our levels of consumption. You know, I think that there's...


FUNES: ...This, like, obsession with buying and living lavishly and, you know, flying everywhere. And just the way that we currently operate is not sustainable. And it creates systems of inequity and inequality where some of us have a lot and some of us have very little.

And so, you know, it's going to be a long journey, I think, to get to the point where we're not only solving the climate crisis, but also solving the various other criseses (ph) - crises that, you know, humans face, such as poverty, you know, systemic racism, white supremacy, legacies of colonialism. And folks really want to see us use this emergency as an opportunity...

SANDERS: To fix some stuff, yeah.

FUNES: Yeah. To get some - there's so much wrong with the world.


SANDERS: Yeah. It's funny. You said criseses and then corrected yourself to say crises. But honestly, at this point it feels like a criseses 'cause it's so many.

FUNES: (Laughter).

SANDERS: It's so much.

FUNES: It's endless.


SANDERS: And like, you look at it, and you're just like, oh, my God. And for me it's, like, I know at this point that, like, a lot of big entities are responsible for the majority of these greenhouse gas emissions - big corporations, these oil companies, et cetera. But I also know that, like, I am part of the problem, too. And I'll hear some activists say, the corporations got to fix it. They got to fix it. You can't, you know, recycle your way individually out of climate change. But I still can't shake this idea that it also comes down to us individually and our personal energy use.

FUNES: Mmm hmm.

SANDERS: Like, no matter how you slice it, at some point individually, our lives and our consumption has to change drastically to fix this, right?

FUNES: A hundred percent, yes. There's a climate essayist whom I love, Mary Heglar, whom I've spoken to about, how can we respond to the climate crisis? And, you know, she said it really beautifully that we should be asking ourselves, yes-and. You know, what can we do? Like, can we eat less meat? Yes. And what else can I do? Can I buy less plastic? Yes. And what else can I do? Can I call up a Congress member and demand climate action at the federal level? Yes. And - you know, it's, like, there are endless things that we as individuals can do. But eventually on the individual level, you know, the things that you can do run out - can only get so far. You can live a zero-waste lifestyle and go vegan and call your reps every single day before it eventually runs out individually.

And that's why there's so much power in collective action. And there's really been a call from environmental justice activists and the climate movement at large to shift that mindset into a collective mindset because folks need to come together and really figure out how to push the people in power to change the system so that we can more easily live sustainably. Right?

SANDERS: Are you hopeful that that starts to happen? You know, I have lived through now - we all have - so many climate reports like these.

FUNES: Mmm hmm.

SANDERS: And it feels like we really haven't made change. I will say this report felt more dire than any one I've seen before. But do you think that we're on the precipice of real change?

FUNES: You know, I have a fraught relationship with hope. You know, that's...



FUNES: I mean, it's - I know what's possible scientifically. I know what must be done. Do I see the political will to make these things happen? Not yet. What I do have hope in is in the folks on the ground. I have hope in the climate justice movement. And I have hope in the Black and brown communities who have long been impacted by the fossil fuel industry long before climate change started showing its face on this planet and who are not standing down and who are - who will not allow, you know, the climate crisis to be an expiration date for them and their communities. That's what gives me hope.

SANDERS: OK. OK. You know, having this conversation with you, reading that climate report, seeing the headlines this week, I kind of feel powerless in the face of it all. But you wrote near the beginning of a piece that you put out this week that our elected officials answer to us, and we are not powerless. And I read it, and I was, like, yeah, you're right. And then I still felt powerless.


SANDERS: Why do you think, when it comes to our climate change conversation, that so many of us feel like we cannot do anything? And how do we change that?

FUNES: Well, it's a giant, gargantuan issue. It's literally like an existential crisis that we face. And so I don't know that our brains, you know, know how to process something of this magnitude. But I think that the most important thing that people can do to, you know, change those negative feelings, that climate despair, that climate doom, you know, as some folks like to call it, is to really build communities. Like, find folks who are feeling the same way as you. And plug in with them so that you're not feeling so alone. You know, this is literally what my therapist told me, too. She's like, you need more friends who are climate awake because you can't be alone with these feelings.

But, you know, you can take it a step further and try to figure out, what can we do collectively together that not only helps us feel better but that actually feels like we are building power, you know? And I think that depending on where folks are. There's local organizations - you know, the Sunrise Movement, if that aligns with folks' politics. They have chapters across the U.S. You know, there are community groups everywhere that will allow you to plug in and make change and build that power.

You know, because we do have power. And our elected officials do answer to us. We elected them. And...

SANDERS: There you go.

FUNES: ...It's frustrating...


FUNES: ...When you feel that we're not the ones who are in their ears whispering to them. They're hearing these whispers from other people, you know, from the fossil fuel industry. And it doesn't have to be that way if we pressure them enough and get in their faces and get in...


FUNES: ...The streets, you know, crowd the halls of Congress (laughter).

SANDERS: Thanks again to Yessenia Funes. She is the climate editor at Atmos magazine.

All right, listeners, coming up, the best things that happened to you all week.


AUNT BETTY: Now it's time to end the show as we always do. Every week, listeners share the best thing that happened to them all week. We encourage folks to brag, and they do. Let's hear a few of those submissions.

LAURA: Hi, Sam. This is Laura (ph). And the best thing that happened to me this week was moving to your hometown of San Antonio. We just got our moving pod unloaded this morning into our new house. And even though we have a lot of unpacking to do, this place feels a lot more like home.

CHRIS: Hey, Sam - Chris in Washington, D.C. and a fellow Texan. The best thing to happen to me this week was I have raised my aspirational budget, which may not seem like a big deal to some, but fundraising is super hard. It is rejection after rejection and can be really demoralizing. But now I know that my staff is okay and we can keep growing - feels really good.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: The best part of my week is that for the past two months I've been planning and coordinating a party for my parents. They will both be celebrating their 90th birthdays this month and their 70th wedding anniversary. I feel so fortunate to be celebrating the birthdays of both of my parents at 90.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: The best thing that happened to me this week was something that was a complete surprise. My mom's in a nursing home. And I need to clean out her apartment. It was a little bit daunting to do it on my own, when out of the blue, one of her neighbors offered to help me and was amazing - made me feel good because there are still kind people out there.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: The best thing that happened to me this week was that Safeway in Truckee found my wallet. I live in Graeagle, Calif. And we are watching the Dixie Fire take over our communities in Plumas County. I drove to Truckee to get gas, money and supplies and returned home without my wallet containing my emergency cash. How grateful and happy I was to discover that Safeway had retrieved my wallet and put it in the office.

CHRIS: Thanks for what you do and have a great week.


LAURA: Thanks for your show.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Love your show - thanks, Sam.

SANDERS: Thanks to those listeners you just heard there - Laura, Susan G. (ph), Theresa (ph), Chris and Susan H. (ph). And Laura, welcome to San Antonio. I think you will love it. All right, listeners, you can share the best part of your week at any point throughout any week. Just record yourself, and then send that voice memo to That email address once more is

All right. This week, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE was produced by Anjuli Sastry, Andrea Gutierrez and Liam McBain. Our intern is Manuela Lopez Restrepo. Our fearless editor is Jordana Hochman. Our director of programming is Steve Nelson. And our big boss is NPR's senior VP of programming, Anya Grundmann.

And I want to pause right now to say thank you to our intern, Manuela Lopez Restrepo. She is leaving after this week. Her internship has coming to a close. But I got to say, it has been such a joy working with you, Manuela. You are funny. You are snarky. You are quick. You know how to do the socials and the video things. You make me feel young. Thanks for all you've done for us. We cannot wait to see and hear what you do next - all the best, Manuela.

All right, listeners, till next time, be good to yourselves. I'm Sam Sanders. We'll talk soon.


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